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The Email Inbox is a Crowded Spot. Learn How to Own It!

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I have a secret.

I hoard emails. Big time.

That dream of an inbox at zero is nearly impossible for me. I once had zero emails in my inbox because I heard you got a reward from Google Inbox (it’s actually true). That sense of relief I got from attaining a clear inbox lasted for all of five minutes before another promotional email appeared. And I’m ok with that. I love email. Apparently, so does the rest of the world!

My reward from Google Inbox after achieving zero inbox.

Related: Why You Should be A/B Testing your Email Content

The image above is the reward from Google Inbox after achieving zero inbox.

There are currently over 4.1 million active email addresses in the world and that number is only increasing. It’s expected, that by 2018, there will be over 5.2 million active email addresses worldwide (via the Radicati Group).

With all this email being sent out and all those inboxes storing those messages, it must get a little crowded in there, right? And if anyone is a hard subscriber to please, it’s me. Even though I’ve subscribed to everything, not every email gets an open. Below are my six tips to help your emails stand out in a very crowded place!

full inbox email marketing

1. Let your “from” name do most of the work for you

People prioritize their inboxes based on the gut responses they have to what they see. First thing you see when a new email pops up in your inbox? The “From” name. The subscriber weighs how important the relationship they have with you is. Did your last email offer irrelevant content? Or did your last email convert to a sale with this subscriber?

Read up on my last post about how email marketing is a bit like dating to get an idea of how to start building a great relationship with your subscribers.

2. Ensure your subject line includes an action

Congrats! The subscriber has given you a pass on the status of your email marketing relationship and it’s now up to the subject line to really grab their attention.

One common mistake I often see is companies try to get really cute with their subject line but don’t actually tell me what to do. We need to be told what to do. Be sure to include some sort of CTA in your subject.

Another thing I see a lot (remember, I’m on every email database imaginable) is companies rush to get an email out that the subject line is an afterthought.

Here’s my subject line litmus test:

1. Write subject line.
2. Send a test email to a colleague.
3. Ask them if they liked the last email you sent to them.
4. If they can’t recall an email from you, try another subject line. (I spend a lot of time writing subject lines.)

3. Let your preheader do the sweet talking

It’s a fantastic way to build on your subject line. I often like to use it as a place to add a fitting joke that will give that extra push and encourage an open. It’s kinda like a mullet, business in the front (your subject line), party in the back (your preheader).

4. Have a good balance of images and text

I get it, images make emails look so much better. I totally agree. But what if the majority of your database is on an email service provider that doesn’t automatically download images? Litmus released some data in 2014 that stated 43% of people have images turned off by default. Almost half of the people looking at your emails aren’t seeing your images automatically.

In a lot of cases they’re seeing this:

Yikes. It's virtually a blank page, no alt text, no text, nothing.
Yikes. It’s virtually a blank page, no alt text, no text, nothing.

You can use alt text, background colours, bulletproof buttons and more to help create a balance of images and text in your email. Pinterest is a great resource for collections of emails and inspiration on this very topic. Check it out.

And please remember, if you’re using an image for email copy, you’re doing it wrong.

5. Make it easy to close the sale.

I think I could write an entire post on writing a clear CTA, but I will summarize it to the following:


6. Respect your subscribers

Think back to the etiquette your parents taught you. When someone invited you into their home, you were expected to be on your best behaviour. To be respectful, polite and not overstay your welcome. Same rules apply when someone invites you into their inbox. Be the proper guest your parents taught you to be. Be charming, don’t waste their time and be sure you bring something to the table. Respect the host, or in this case, the keeper of the inbox.

So what does that really mean?

Do not include huge image files.

Yes, .gifs are cool, but try to keep them down to 3 or 4 frames. Last I checked, Canada did not offer unlimited data plans (much to my behest). Be sure to use the image file types you should and when you’re saving the files, make the sizes smaller. Litmus has a great blog post on images in emails here.

No more batch and blast.

It’s no longer acceptable to do this. I’m not joking. Stop it now. You may not realize it, but you’ve already got so much data on your subscribers, you just have to figure out what to do with it. Start with small automated campaigns, like birthday, welcome and cart abandonment. Track subscribers’ behaviour (far less creepy than it sounds) and use it to serve them relevant content.

For example: I subscribe to emails from Modcloth. I’m a frequent browser and shopper and I’ve only ever purchased dresses from them. My wishlist is stocked with loads of dresses. I love dresses, my colleagues at Demac have yet to see me in pants). When I receive an email from them, the only products featured are dresses. It works and I’m pretty sure my conversion rate is 100%.

Modcloth Dynamic Content

Design your emails as if no one is reading them, use images and strong headlines to convey your message. Keep in mind that the brain processes images 60,000x faster than text and 80% of people scan your email. Let me write that for you again, it’s important.


If you can connect with your subscribers on an emotional level and use strong images to pique their interests, all rational thoughts go out the window. They’re yours. Of course, this is no easy feat. Find out what works for you and your brand. The only way to do so is to test. Test every email campaign. Test all day, everyday. I’m serious. You’ll gain a better understanding of your subscribers and set your own brand standards, rather than comparing yourself to industry standards, which are extremely inaccurate anyway.

Related: Finding the One: Email Marketing and the Inbox

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